The Front Porch: Racial reconciliation and the importance of marriage

February 12, 2014

Thabiti Anyabwile is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and the author of numerous books, including What is a Healthy Church Member? The Faithful Preacher and The Gospel for Muslims. He is a popular conference speaker and blogs regularly at Pure Church. He and his wife, Kristie, have been married for more than 20 years and have three children.

Thabiti is one of the founders of a brand new blog entitled, The Front Porch, which features conversations about theology in the African American church.

I corresponded with Anyabwile recently about this new endeavor, about racial reconciliation in the church, and about the importance of marriage and family in society.

Why did you see the need for The Front Porch?

Tony [Carter], Lou [Love] and I have great times whenever we’re together. We enjoy one another’s company and we enjoy talking about a whole range of topics and issues. We thought it would be wonderful to have a “space” where we could do that with other pastors and Christians who share our interest in the African-American church and Christian themes. To my knowledge, there really aren’t many “porches” of this sort where people can gather and talk about the Black Church. We hope The Front Porch meets that need and helps to connect different quarters of the church in fruitful discussion.

Is this an organization, a website, or both?

Right now we’re a website. We’re not trying to start a denomination or start an organization that takes energy away from our primary calling as pastors. We’re men who love the local church and we hope to invest the bulk of our energies and efforts in our own congregations.

We also host what we hope will be an annual meeting of African-American pastors who share our love for the Black Church and it’s vitality. About thirty of us gather once a year for prayer, discussion, and encouragement. We hope those times might also provide a space conducive to talking about difficulty issues, sometimes disagreeing in love, and working together in a collaborative way.

Looking at your mission statement–one of your voices is on family. Why is it important to address topics and issues related to the family of God?

Well, that’s what a local church is—an expression of the family of God. We are “God’s household” and God’s adopted children through faith in Christ. This spiritual reality is captured very regularly in the tendency of African-American church members to refer to one another as “brother” or “sister” so-and-so. There’s warmth and dearness that comes with seeing yourself as more than a club or social activity, but as a family. And there are things we need to address as one part of the family of God that’s really family business. We can’t be healthy as a church if we don’t.

And some things that affect our family don’t affect other families in the same way. For example, somewhere there’s a family in a neighborhood who doesn’t have health insurance. Across the street is another family with a member who suffers depression. Down the block parents of two young children are thinking of getting a divorce. They all belong to the same community, but they deal with some very different realities. Churches across our communities, across ethnic groups, and across national borders are much like that. So, we need places—porches—where the family can iron some things out, take care of its business, in order to be fruitful parts of the wider community.

What are specific areas that you see that need to be addressed in regards to the family of God or that you plan to address?

Well, central to being the family of God is knowing you’re in the family of God. Before one belongs they have to believe. So we’ll spend a fair amount of time thinking about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and what true conversion and spiritual life entails. Also, there’s nothing quite like the family meeting in the Black Church. And central to that meeting is the preaching of the Father’s word. So we’ll discuss preaching a fair bit. And we hope to interact with some of the major cultural concerns that affect the family of God in the African-American community.

What about family as in marriage and children?  Do you plan to address the core concerns of the African American community in regards to family? If so, what are a few areas that you and your team might focus on?

Family and family formation is perhaps the most urgent issue in the African-American community as well as the wider country. So many things are affected by whether or not couples form healthy marriages and whether children are raised by their biological parents.

On The Front Porch you’ll join us in conversation about biblical manhood and womanhood, the biblical roles of men and women in the church and the family, parenting, family worship, human sexuality, choosing local churches that are right for your family, leaders and their families, and engaging music, art and culture as they affect the family. We’re happy to address everything the Scripture addresses when it comes to our families.

We also involve the voices of our sisters in this conversation. We’d look crazy trying to talk about the African-American family without including the persons who are right now doing the most to hold families together!

At the end of the day, local churches are very much in the business of helping people live as disciples of Jesus Christ—and that rubber meets the road in our families. If we won’t live out the faith in our homes, we won’t live out the faith anywhere.

I love the idea of the front porch being a place where people gather. What ways are you intentionally drawing upon your site name for an audience that will be primarily over the internet? 

Well, creating conversations in an electronic medium can be quite difficult. But for me, the most porch-like experience is the laughter! We enjoy each other and we enjoy interacting with folks. So there tends to be a fair amount of laughter even as we talk about important things.

We’re also trying to keep the porch theme alive in everything from the reader’s ability to comment on posts, to “vote up”/”vote down” other readers’ comments, share posts and comments with others, and express our welcome to folks who “join us on the porch.” I love the fact that Lou, Tony and I engage with people whether or not it’s a post we’ve written. We all dive in to try and keep the conversation going.

We’ve also created a place where folks can “register” with The Front Porch. All that means is we ask you a few questions about your current church experience and background, then we include you in our list of contacts and send you a free book. Then we try to “get other people on the porch.” So there are guest posts and videos where we expand the conversation to include others. And you can take the conversation with you via our podcast.

And every once in a while, though we try not to, we have to “kick somebody off the porch!” No self-respecting homeowner would allow just anybody to come onto their porch and act any ol’ way!

You’ve addressed theological issues that can often divide the Black community, such as the prosperity gospel. How do you approach these topics with those who may disagree?

We try to establish a friendly front porch tone. Though there may be disagreement, we don’t want to be disagreeable. We want to welcome folks. Louis’ post, “Helping Them Out,” is a good example of being patient and kind. Then we try to be as biblical as possible. Here’s where the site is not like a regular front porch. People can offer any opinion they wish on most front porches in America. But we’re bound by the word of God, so we want to bring biblical solutions to bear. Finally, we recognize that not every issue can be resolved in a single conversation. So we try to give other resources for further consideration. Many of those we keep in our bookstore.

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24